Branding as Conversation

This is a bit of a different article for today and is a little taster of my university dissertation. I was exploring the theme of Branding as Conversation and looking at how brands are beginning to use copy on packaging and digital conversations as an integral part of their branding.

This surge in chatty branding has created an influx of blog posts with differing opinions on whether or not brands should be our friends. There’s a host of absurd terminology arising from ‘wackaging’ to ‘branter’ and right now there’s almost no one I envy less than those entrusted with a brand’s social media persona.

I am a 90’s child, and have spent a good portion of my life now on social networking sites. I have also spent almost half of my time on Earth surrounded by ‘chatty’ copy on packaging. However, somehow, despite all of this, if someone asks me who my best friend is (although I have to say that trend stopped in around year 7) I would not instantly declare ‘Tesco Mobile’ or ‘Innocent’ or even ‘Waterstones Oxford Street’. I realise this information may not come as a shock to you but brands are not actually trying to be our friends and we do not really see them as such. Just because they post an entertaining picture or tell us to ‘pop round to say hello’ doesn’t mean we’re instantly mates – they’re simply trying to break up the monotony of introspective, un-engaging and frankly dull messages and information that surrounds us all.

Whilst I am generally in favour of brands having personality and a unique tone of voice, the emphasis of this sentence needs to firmly be placed on ‘unique’. Brands need to find out who they’re talking to and what these people want to hear. It’s no good seeing a brand post a picture of a cat with a moustache and decide that that’s the best route for another brand because, 99% of the time, it is not. I think a lot of brands fail to acknowledge that the section of people they are talking to changes constantly and they need to be personified to such an extent that they can adapt to these changes in the same way that humans do. I have seen no end of articles dictating that brands need to create a ‘consistent tone of voice across all platforms’ when in reality it is not consistency that brands need, but instead, coherency. There is a huge difference between posting a tweet that will primarily be seen by individuals who have chosen to engage with a particular brand and creating an advert due to be aired on prime-time television; and the brand’s tone of voice needs to reflect this.

Back in 1967 Marshall McLuhan declared that, “Propaganda ends when dialogue begins” and I believe this quote applies well to the state of branding today. If brands can find a way to create conversation and dialogue with their consumer then the idea of them being ‘propaganda’ is lost. They stop becoming spam and filter themselves almost seamlessly into our lives. However, the minute disconnect arises (potentially through the wrong choice of media or audience) and the conversation becomes stilted or unreciprocated they instantly become propaganda once more, and seemingly devious propaganda at that.

This is an extremely fine line for any brand to tread and with such continuous public feedback and criticism it is not a task to take on lightly, however if it is done well, then they can gain almost unlimited access into their consumers’ lives and, more importantly, minds.

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